Divorce is not what most people would call ‘easy’ or ‘simple.’ But navigating a contentious divorce or difficult situation can get even more challenging when children and child custody issues are involved.
As an experienced and reliable CA child custody lawyer, our attorney Erica Bansmer has helped countless clients work through contentious custody disputes in California. If you are currently dealing with this situation, you likely have many questions—and more than a few worries about the well-being of your kids.
First, you should know that your heart is in the right place. Data shows that the process of divorce can be quite stressful for children, no matter their age. Keep reading for answers to the most common questions we hear regarding contentious custody disputes, tips on how to strengthen your case while protecting your children’s well-being, and advice on what you should do next.
What are Common Causes of Contentious Custody Disputes in California?
Common causes of contentious custody disputes in California include:
- Domestic violence – When one parent commits an act (or acts) of domestic violence against another, custody disputes tend to be far more difficult. This is true even when the child is not directly impacted by or subject to domestic abuse.
- Substance abuse – It is no secret that drug and alcohol abuse can change a person, from their mannerisms to the way they think. Substance abuse is a very commonly cited issue during contentious custody disputes.
- Contempt for the other parent – Because mediation is a mandatory step during CA custody disputes, both parents have to set aside their differences and be civil. When one party (or both) cannot have these conversations without hurling insults, the dispute becomes much more difficult.
- Child neglect – Sometimes, a parent wants custody in order to ‘win’ over the other parent—despite having no real interest in raising their child. When one parent has a track record of neglect, but is now fighting tooth and nail for custody, the situation often becomes contentious.
- Psychological disorders – These situations can be especially challenging. While people typically cannot control whether they have a psychological disorder, they still have to provide a certain level of care to their children. A parent’s custody wishes may not align with their ability to care for the child.
- Child abduction or abuse – We have all heard stories of a parent without custodial rights kidnapping their own child, or disappearing when it is time for the next exchange. Past instances of this behavior almost always make a custody dispute extremely contentious.
3 Tips to Strengthen Your Custody Case in CA
As a parent, dealing with contentious custody disputes is nothing short of exhausting. You are trying to deal with all the details that come with divorce while keeping your daily responsibilities in check—including caring for your children.
You may be feeling like you just do not have the bandwidth for everything. So, before getting into these tips, know that taking steps to strengthen your custody case will almost always overlap with doing what is best for your kids.
With that in mind, here are 3 things you can do to help your child through the divorce while making the best case possible.
- Be responsible and engaged. Demonstrating a pattern of positive behavior will make things easier for your children. If you already have custodial time with them, be sure to use it—do not skip visits. Be dependable, show up when you are needed, and try to keep your record clean. Everything from arrests to speeding tickets can be used against you.
- Make home life as safe and wholesome as possible. The judge in your case needs to see that your children have a safe, positive home environment. Childproof your home if your kids are young. Keep the entire space clean and sanitary. And perhaps most importantly, make sure your friends and guests are safe adults without dangerous criminal records.
- Always take the high road. Did you know you can call character witnesses during your custody trial? If you have been bad-mouthing your ex to a mutual friend or on social media, these comments can be brought up and used against you. Ideally, avoid public fights with your ex and disparaging them—especially in front of your kids.
How Do Courts Typically Handle Contentious Custody Disputes in California?
California law dictates that in any case involving contentious custody disputes, the couple must attend mediation through the courts’ Family Court Services unit. The state estimates a total of 20-25% of all CA child custody cases are handled this way.
The process typically looks something like this:
- You and/or your spouse file documents seeking an order for child visitation or custody.
- The court refers you to mandatory mediation, the goal being to work with a mediator and agree on a parenting plan. (Even when major issues such as substance abuse are involved, you willl attend mediation.)
- If mediation does not work, you will see a judge the same day, who will then make the ruling on your custody agreement.
How Often Do Children Get a Say or Are Involved in Contentious Custody Disputes in California?
Especially during contentious custody disputes in California, children get a say in the proceedings fairly often. The most important thing to know is that certain guidelines govern whether your child will be allowed to make their preferences known.
Per California Family Code § 3042, the court considers a child’s wishes if:
- They are at least 14 years old (unless the judge specifically determines that doing so would not be in the child’s best interests)
- They are under the age of 14, but the judge still believes it would be appropriate for the child to share their preferences
Now, just because the court will hear a child out does not mean they have to grant the child’s request. The judge decides how much weight to give their statements relative to the many other factors that must be considered.
Hiring an Experienced, Reliable Child Custody Lawyer to Help You Navigate Custody Cases in San Joaquin County California
Odds are you already feel a bit like you are drowning—trying to do right by your kids, keep daily life on track, and do what is best for you is a lot to manage. Adding a contentious custody dispute on top of all that can feel like a lead weight.
That is why you should consider hiring a focused, experienced child custody lawyer who has successfully navigated many contentious custody disputes in California. With over 15 years of winning successful outcomes for our clients, the team at Bansmer Law is here to throw you a life preserver right now.
If you are ready to learn more about how we can help, just call our office now at (209) 474-2400.